One morning four months ago, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Catholic Diocese of Murang’a had a surprise visitor. Outside the compound of the Catholic Secretariat in Murang’a town was a truck full of an assortment of foodstuff with the crew seeking to see Bishop James Wainaina. The donation, the crew revealed, was from a familiar church member - Simon Wachira - a business magnate from Murang’a. To the priests and some locals, Wachira is another committed church member of St Joseph The Worker, Mumbi Catholic Church, but unknown to many he is one of the successful sons of Murang’a.
Trading under Maguna Andu Wholesalers, Wachira’s empire that transcends four counties has made him a household name in Mt Kenya region. He is a known philanthropist locally and has lived up to the letter and spirit of his business name - Maguna Andu - loosely translated as beneficial to the people. Wachira is an active member of the Catholic Church hence his popularity among the parishioners. His story is a classical example of grass to grace, having risen from a hawker to owning one of the successful business chains in the region.
Wachira runs the successful Magunas Supermarkets chain, which has been flexing muscles with other established stores such as Naivas, Quickmatt and Tuskys. Magunas has two branches each in Murang’a and Embu, a hyper store in Kirinyaga, a branch in Nyeri and another one in Nairobi’s Utawala estate. Apart from the supermarkets and the wholesale business, Wachira has diversified to the hospitality industry, running two high-class hotels - Hotel Nokras Murang’a and Nokras Riverine Hotel and Spa. Nokras Riverine, set on lush grounds overlooking the scenic Sagana River, is the latest entry into the scene, boosting the Mt Kenya tourism circuit.
But with all these investments, a few people would pick out Wachira in a crowd; he is a down-to-earth man who easily mingles with the common man. According to James Mwangi, a member of Mumbi Catholic Church, Wachira rarely misses mass and is always engaged in church activities.
“Unless he is out of town, he never misses church service. He is a down-to-earth man who participates in all church and community activities,” said Mwangi.
It is not easy to tell that Wachira is behind the Magunas empire that is the envy of many a person. The publicity-shy entrepreneur was brought up in Kiburu village on the border of Kirinyaga and Nyeri before relocating to Murang’a. When we sought him for an interview, Wachira only gave a snippet of his life, adding; “I wouldn’t want to let the cat out of the bag prematurely since I’m in the middle of documenting my story”.
“Even my children will see some of the stuff in the book that will be released soon. It will give a clear picture of the journey I have travelled in my life; the ups and downs as well as the fruits of my labour,” said Wachira during an interview at his Nokras hotel.
He revealed how he started hawking in Mukuyu market in the 1980s, walking through the dusty paths carrying his wares as he wooed customers. The investor said like any other business, hawking had its fair share of challenges working long hours under the scorching sun till dusk. He narrated that from his earnings, he managed to make savings that enabled him to open a retail shop in Mukuyu township 30 years ago.
“The little I saved from my hawking helped establish a shop with a small loan. Let me tell you that you cannot expand any business without the back-up from friends you have invested in along the way,” said Wachira.
Although he is reluctant to discuss his family, the business mogul appreciates family involvement on the day-to-day running of the business empire, saying his children are trained in best management practices. As his retail business blossomed, he started Maguna Andu Wholesalers metres away from the grocery shop, where he obtained goods from manufacturers on credit.
“For one to succeed, payment for goods and services obtained is crucial for one to win the trust of players in the value chain,” he said, adding the young people must be trained on such values.
The wholesale led to the opening of Magunas Supermarkets, which have branches in several parts of Mt Kenya region and Nairobi. The trade name has been copied in many businesses, with traders wanting to be associated with the chain of supermarkets. The wholesale shop business is backed by a fleet of vehicles that deliver orders to customers at their doorsteps in Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Laikipia. Wachira’s first supermarket was established at Kwa Maji area now christened Magunas stage before others followed suit.
The chain of supermarkets has employed hundreds of youth, where local companies are given platforms to market their products in the spirit of ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’. Local farmers have an opportunity to sell their produce in the outlets. Wachira said for the business to survive one must give the best service, reasonable price and be honest.
“This is a Wanjiku platform where prices of the commodity are affordable and we also ensure we give quality goods and service. Value for money is essential for the customer and that is what Magunas Supermarkets have maintained for years,” said Wachira, adding that there are customer service desks where complaints and compliments are made.
In 2012, Wachira ventured into the hospitality industry after he founded Nokras Hotel, a four-star facility. Opening of the hotel improved trading in Murang’a as corporates started holding business meetings there, which were previously held in Thika and Nyeri. Two years ago, Wachira opened Nokras Riverine Hotel and Spa in Sagana, which last year hosted guests who attended the sixth Devolution Conference that was held in Kirinyaga County.
“Providing customers with quality service has seen our hospitality sector grow. Many of our customers frequently visit due to classic service,” said Wachira, who is the chairman of the group.
The hotel has been used by Utalii College to train employees in Mt Kenya region. John Macharia said when he came to the area in 1990, he found Wachira operating in Mukuyu market.
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“I knew him when I came to Murang’a town and since then I have seen his business grow rapidly. He is a hands-on man and very hardworking,” said Macharia.
Nokras Riverine has 65 rooms, 29 cottages and conference facilities that can host 1,000-plus participants at a go. Murang’a County is gearing to join the lucrative Mt Kenya Tourism Circuit with investors planning to open more outlets.